The First Breakfast

I’m sitting here behind the computer on a Tuesday morning coordinating a few things. On my left, I have ESPN on, and they have a Venus Williams match on from Wimbledon, against some Russian lady I don’t know who goes “Whoop!” every time she serves. As I typed this article, Williams won her match and moved into the semifinal round of the ladies tournament.

I’m old enough (46 years old on September 6th) to remember a time when Wimbledon wasn’t aired live in the United States at all, but tape delayed. This was done mainly for two reasons, one being that there was a five hour time difference between the eastern US and the UK. Secondly, ESPN didn’t start up until September of 1979, so if you wanted to see sports, you saw them when the networks wanted you to see them. Very few events were carried “live via satellite” from other parts of the world because it was a relatively new technology, and probably had a bit of a price tag to it in terms of cost.

The seven year old version of myself was probably expecting to see an array of cartoons on the Saturday morning of July 7th, 1979. Instead, my Dad told me that we’d be watching the men’s championship match of Wimbledon starting at 9:00 that morning on Channel 8, our NBC station here in Tampa Bay. Bjorn Borg, the reigning king of tennis from Sweden, outlasted Roscoe Tanner in five sets to take his fourth straight title that day.

I sure I asked my Dad why they were planning so early, and that he explained to me the whole thing about time zones, which probably lit a few cartoonized light bulbs in my head. Funny what you learn when you learn other things.

Terrorism Becomes Routine

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The incident in Nice, France where a terrorist plowed into a Bastille Day crowd, killing (as of this writing) at least 84 people, crept up on me kind of like the terrorist attack last year in Paris did.

Late in the afternoon on Thursday, I saw on my Tweet Deck page that I use to keep track of the Big Brother season (which is often easier to crunch information to me than the feeds are) that there had been an incident in Nice. As is often the case with news out of France the past 20 years (Princess Diana’s death comes to mind), the news and the magnitude of what breaks is understated at first, or so it seems. Maybe something gets lost in the French to English translation?

Then around 6:30pm or so my time (US East coast time), the numbers came in that at least 60 were killed in the incident, with the number climbing through the night past 70, then past 80. That got my attention, sadly.

These incidents have gotten to point where the senseless killing has begun to desensitize me. Even the big US networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, an Fox) didn’t break into programming to provide coverage, whereas CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News carried it extensively. It reminds me of how the space shuttle launches back in the 80’s got so routine that they were barely covered anymore as news, and then the Challenger disaster happened in 1986, and everyone started caring again for the wrong reasons.

Terrorism has become routine. Even CNN’s anchors were saying last night something like, “80 dead in Nice, but let’s take a commercial break, and we’ll get right back to the breaking news.” Then they run those sad ASPCA commercials of pets crying out for care, love, and attention. Almost made ME want to cry, but not for the reasons and emotions that were being prompted out of me.

The question is, how and why did it get so routine, and are we fully aware of the dangers of sleepwalking through this sort of thing?

Lighting The Torch

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Muhammad Ali almost ready to light the Olympic Flame at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia on July 19, 1996. Janet Evans looks on at the right, probably ready to assist if the situation required it.

Let me share with you another Muhammad Ali memory. Hey, he’s worth it.

I was living in Marietta, Georgia in 1996 when the Atlanta Olympics took place. It will always be a fond memory for me to have lived in the shadow of an Olympics, because not too many areas in the world get such an honor.

I watched a good chunk of the games those two weeks and change on NBC, and watched the opening ceremonies. They made a big hullabaloo over who would get the light the Olympic Flame, to the point where my mind was racing about it to the point where you couldn’t enjoy the pageantry of the opening.

As the torch lighting ceremonies came down to the final moments, I was out of my mind wondering WHO would light the torch at the end, and why won’t they tell us? Janet Evans, the gold-medal swimmer, had the torch near the climax, and then I saw that Muhammad Ali was there for the finale.

On one hand, it blew me away that he received the honor. But on another front, it horrified me! It was well known that Ali suffered from Parkinson’s Disease, probably from being in the ring for a few fights too many. I’m sure the organizers had contingency plans if the legendary Ali somehow couldn’t complete his task, but watching this on live TV didn’t ease my thoughts that this could be a potential disaster.

Needless to say, it went off without a hitch, and when the flame was lit, I took a sigh of relief. Quite a moment looking back at it, now that I know all went well.

Deja Vu All Over Again

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With everyone still talking about the death of Prince on the networks in a near breathless detail, it gave me a weird sense of deja vu that I’ve only had one other time in my life.

I was at home on February 1, 2003 in the early morning hours. I knew the space shuttle Columbia was set to land just past 9am. The cable news outlets were preparing to briefly cover the landing, or so I thought. I read on the bottom of the TV screen that Mission Control in Houston had lost contact with the shuttle minutes prior to landing, which began ringing alarm bells in my head. I knew from following the landings that there is usually a blackout period when the shuttle returns to Earth, but that time should have come and gone by that point.

Then the landing time of 9:16am came and went, still no shuttle. Commentators like Jay Barbree on MSNBC (who I once talked to in my radio travels, decent man) and Miles O’Brien on CNN were beginning to put Columbia and the fallen shuttle Challenger in the same sentence. Something was wrong, but what, and where would it come down, and in how many pieces?

The rest of the day was a blur. That day in February, to me, very much resembled January 28, 1986. The three anchors were the same: Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw, and Dan Rather on ABC, NBC, and CBS respectively. The facts slightly different, but as was the case in 1986, a loss of all seven members of the crew, each time five men and two women.

Prince passing felt very similar to me to Michael Jackson’s passing. MJ died on a Thursday in June 2009 right after Farrah Fawcett had been buried, Prince died on a Thursday a few hours after pro wrestler Joan “Chyna” Laurer had passed in California. In both MJ and Prince’s cases, there seemed to be warnings the each was not well in the time leading up to the passing of each rock/pop legend, but only fully decipherable until both had respectively died.

Not to mention the “King Of Pop” had two sons named Prince, which is somewhat odd.

Another odd fact, Prince mentions in his 1987 song “Sign O’ The Times” the following lyric:

Is it silly, no?
When a rocket blows and, and everybody still wants to fly
Some say man ain’t happy truly until a man truly dies
Oh why, oh why?

In a way, everything ties together when you really look at things.

Much like that day in 2003, Thursday was a bit of a blur to me. Even though there were marked differences in the lives touched and now changed, it felt like generally it was the same script, a story I didn’t want to relive again, but a reality that will now be there eternally.

Memories Of The Intimidator

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Later today, the Daytona 500 champion will be crowned for 2016, as NASCAR starts its season with its biggest event.

A decade and a half ago, I was watching the same race which Michael Waltrip won, with older brother (and at the time more well known) Darrell putting away any partiality to cheer him to victory at the FOX broadcast booth. There had been a bad wreck behind “Mikey” and second place finisher Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the last turn of the last lap, but the television coverage captured Michael’s win and celebration for several minutes afterward, as would normally be the case.

Sometime after the celebration, I had turned on the XFL game (remember them?) on TV and watched that, thinking the last lap wreck could not have been too bad. Right around 6:30 I was watching NBC for NBA coverage, and I caught Ahmad Rashad giving condolences to the Earnhardt family.

Wait, what?

Flipping around, I caught the word that Dale Earnhardt Sr. had died in that final lap wreck, and I felt terrible. While auto racing is a dangerous sport that has claimed the lives of quite a few drivers (especially in Formula One back in the 60’s through the 80’s, and infrequently in rather gory fashion), it always saddens me when a sport claims someone’s life. Sports are supposed to be fun, not a life or death adventure, though I understand that many race for the “rush” of it all.

News of the senior Earnhardt’s death hit the racing world hard, much like the reaction to Princess Diana’s death in Paris had hit the world three and a half years earlier. They had the services for him at Charlotte’s Calvary Church, which I’d pass every night as I went to the local Walmart on my way to work in 1999 and 2000.

Since then, NASCAR hasn’t lost a single driver to race related injuries, as they’ve made drivers and the courses safe. Racing being what racing is, I don’t doubt there will be another day where a driver is lost (as has happened in other mediums of the sport the past 15 years, most notably to Dan Wheldon a few years ago in Las Vegas), but I’m certainly not looking forward to it.

Flashback: “Alive Again” by Chicago

My introduction to this song wasn’t through the radio, but thru watching sports on TV over the weekends in the late 70’s, most likely CBS and/or NBC, probably as a soundtrack to basketball highlights.

No, I have NO idea what the two hugging band members on the far right on the “Hot Streets” album cover are doing. The less thought about that the better, probably.

Enjoy.

Everything Old Is New Again

Trevor Berbick and Mike Tyson fighting it out on November 22, 1986.  Tyson won the fight to become one of the youngest champions in boxing history at just 20 years of age that night.
Trevor Berbick and Mike Tyson fighting it out on November 22, 1986. Tyson won the fight to become one of the youngest champions in boxing history at just 20 years of age that night.

I used to be a big time fight fan back in the day. Now, not so much. I couldn’t even tell you who all the heavyweight champions are without looking it up on Wikipedia, let alone the other 17 weight classes or so and their menagerie of governing bodies that look like someone played around with their Campbell’s Soup on one bored day.

NBC aired the first prime-time network fights last night since 1985, outside of “The Contender” reality show. It gave a lot of new faces a lot of exposure in one night they wouldn’t get in years of cable and pay-per-view donnybrooks, and I was pleased to see a local pugilist among those on the card.

Keith “One Time” Thurman, a welterweight fighter, was billed being from Largo, Florida, my hometown, although it looks like he also has ties to nearby Clearwater. He decisioned Robert Guerrero in the second of the two NBC fights (there was also a third fight on NBCSN that was a 10 rounder in the featherweight class) on the card.

Will boxing ever be restored to national prominence? The talk of the water coolers at work on Monday morning? Don’t know, but I wouldn’t doubt it. We are cyclical beings: whatever is old becomes new again, and then becomes old once more. Just the way our pop culture life works.